Inside Google’s Giant Data Centers

Inside the internet: Google allows first ever look at the eight vast data centres that power the online world

  • Data centres range from vast warehouses in Iowa to a converted paper mill in Finland
  • Buildings are so large Google even provides bicycles for engineers to get around them
  • Street View tour of North Carolina facility reveals Stormtrooper standing guard

Google has given a rare glimpse inside the vast data centres around the globe that power its services.

They reveal an intricate  maze of computers that process Internet search requests, show  YouTube video clips and distribute email for millions of people.

With hundreds of thousands of servers, colourful cables and even bicycles so engineers can get around quickly, they  range from a converted paper mill in Finland to custom made server farms in Iowa.

 

One of Google’s server farms in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which provides over 115,000 square feet of space for servers running services like Search and YouTube

‘Very few people have stepped inside Google’s  data centers, and for good reason: our first priority is the privacy and security of your data, and we go to great lengths to protect it, keeping our  sites under close guard,’ the firm said.

‘While we’ve shared many of our designs and best practices, and we’ve been publishing our efficiency data since 2008, only a small set of employees have access to the server floor itself.

‘Today, for the first time, you can see inside our data centers and pay them a virtual visit.

‘On Where the Internet lives, our new site featuring beautiful photographs by Connie Zhou, you’ll get a never-before-seen  look at the technology, the people and the places that keep Google running.’

The site features photos from inside some of the eight data centers that Google Inc. already has running in the U.S., Finland  and Belgium.

Google is also building data centers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Chile.

Virtual tours of a North Carolina data center also will be available through Google’s ‘Street View’ service, which is usually used to view photos of neighborhoods around the world.

The photographic access to Google’s data centers coincides with the publication of a Wired magazine article about how the  company builds and operates them.

The article is written by Steven Levy, a journalist who won Google’s trust while writing ‘In The Plex,’ a book published last year about the company’s philosophy and evolution.

Google colour codes its servers depending on their location, while piping in the  buildings is coded depending on what it carries – with cool water in blue tubes and warm in red

 

Google’s Douglas County data centre in Georgia is so large the firm provides Google branded bicycles for staff to get around on

The data centers represent Google’s  nerve  center, although none are located near the company’s headquarters  in Mountain View, Calif.

As Google blossomed from its roots in a Silicon Valley garage, company co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin worked  with other engineers to develop a system to connect low-cost computer servers  in a way that would help them realize their ambition to provide a digital roadmap to all of the world’s information.

Initially, Google just wanted enough  computing power to index all the websites on the Internet and deliver quick  responses to search requests. As Google’s tentacles extended into  other  markets, the company had to keep adding more computers to store videos, photos,  email and information about their users’ preferences.

 

A street view tour published by Google also reveals a hidden surprise – A Stormtrooper standing guard over a server in Google’s North Carolina server farm

The insights that Google gathers about the  more than 1 billion people that use its services has made the  company a frequent target of privacy complaints around the world.

The latest missive came Tuesday in  Europe, where regulators told Google to revise a 7-month-old change to  its privacy policy that enables the company to combine user data  collected from its different services.

Google studies Internet search requests and Web surfing habits in an effort to gain a better  understanding of what people like. The company does this in an effort to show ads of products and services to the people most likely to be  interested in buying them. Advertising accounts for virtually all of Google’s revenue, which totaled nearly $23 billion through the first  half of this year.

Even as it allows anyone with a Web browser  to peer into its data centers, Google intends to closely guard  physical access to its buildings. The company also remains cagey about how many computers are in its data centers, saying only that they house  hundreds of thousands of machines to run Google’s services.

Google’s need for so many computers has turned the company a major electricity user, although management says it’s constantly looking for ways to reduce power consumption to  protect the  environment and lower its expenses.

 

Here hundreds of fans funnel hot air from the server racks into a cooling unit to be recirculated in Oklahoma. The green lights are the server status LEDs reflecting from the front of the servers

 

The Iowa campus network room, where routers and switches allow data centers to talk to each other. The fiber cables run along the yellow cable trays near the ceiling.

 

Even the water pipes reflect Google’s brand: These colorful pipes are responsible for carrying water in and out of an Oregon data center. The blue pipes supply cold water and the red pipes return the warm water back to be cooled.

 

Google’s server farm in Douglas County, Iowa

 

Denise Harwood, a Google Engineer, diagnoses an overheated CPU. For more than a  decade, Google has built some of the world’s most efficient servers.

 

Each server rack has four switches, connected by a different colored cable.  Colors are kept the same throughout data centers so staff know which one to  replace in case of failure.

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